Asheville Area Arts Council Launches New Arts Coalition

Paint brushes on a canvas.
Anna Kolosyuk

The Creative Economy in Buncombe County spans over eight supersectors and supports more than 14,000 jobs. In order to better serve the many diverse arts professionals and businesses in our community, the Asheville Area Arts Council formed the Arts Coalition to drive policy in ten key focus areas from arts education to trade.

“The arts council serves ALL arts professionals and organizations in Buncombe County, and it is our hope that this coalition will help us gather more input from the sector, aid in prioritizing and unifying our advocacy efforts, and create more support for policy initiatives,” says executive director Katie Cornell.

Any member of the arts council is welcome to join one or more of the Arts Coalition committees. Committee members help provide valuable insight and expertise on issues impacting different segments of our creative community. Committee chairs will hold quarterly focus area meetings and serve on the leadership team.


The inaugural committee chairs include many sector veterans, such as Laura Mitchell (Arts Education), Stephanie Hickling Beckman (Arts Equity), Jessica Tomasin (Information), Gar Ragland (Manufacturing), Rae Geoffrey (Nonprofits), Liz Whalen Tallent (Performance Venues), Reggie Tidwell (Professional & Business Services), Justin Rabuck (Public Arts, Festivals, and Community Events), Gwynne Rukendbrod Smith (Sole Proprietors/ Independent Contractors) and Michael Manes (Trade/ Retail).

With input from the Arts Coalition committees, the leadership team will craft a list of annual policy goals for the creative sector. The leadership team will also be actively involved in planning the Creative Sector Summit– an annual conference to address issues impacting the local creative sector. This year’s summit will focus on pandemic recovery as well as equity in the arts sector. “Over the last year or so, arts organizations all over the world have made statements of their commitment to being anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable institutions,” says Different Strokes! Performing Arts Collective artistic director Stephanie Hickling Beckman. “However, we have yet to actually dialogue as a community about how we might avoid the missteps and mindsets that made such statements necessary, locally. It’s time to have those conversations, and I am excited about how the Arts Coalition and Creative Sector Summit will provide an opportunity and a platform to initiate such discourse.” More info about the 2021 Creative Sector Summit coming soon!

In addition to equity, current policy issues are wide-ranging including recovery funding, growing concerns over wage discrepancies, and a new noise ordinance. The latest Noise Ordinance proposal is being presented to Asheville City Council for consideration on July 27. “As an industry and as citizens of Asheville, we are in favor of a noise ordinance change that can support the continued and growing cultural and economic impact of the music industry,” says Asheville Music Professionals director Jessica Tomasin. “I’m glad to be a part of this new Arts Coalition. I think it’s important for the different creative sectors to come together to advocate for a seat at the table when decisions are being made for our community. The economic impact of the arts and cultural sectors is often overlooked and I know we can work collectively to support the entrepreneurs in creative fields while also growing the vibrancy of our city.”

Cornell will give a presentation on the role of the arts council and the current state of the local arts sector during the upcoming Buncombe County Commissioners meeting on July 13.

To learn more about the Arts Coalition, visit

Prepared by the Asheville Area Arts Council.